More Connections and Sharing in the World

Skype with Virginia collage

We connected with another class of sixth graders — with Michelle Haseltine’s class in Virginia — to talk about similar projects that our students worked on to start the year around dreams, aspirations and goals. The video feed didn’t quite work on their end, but we still chatted and shared for about 20 minutes, and we are planning more talks in the future.

One topic that emerged from the students in Virginia was the question of how to stay focused when writing. If you could have seen the virtual high five I gave Michelle, you would know that this is the kind of question that a teacher lives for, particularly when it is asked with no adult prompting. And my students did a fine job of talking about strategies and techniques that they use to remain focused on a piece of writing. I was so proud of them for stepping up and articulating those ideas.

For our part, my kids were jealous that Michelle’s class is piloting a laptop program, allowing them to use technology in all of their classes through the course of the day, as needed. It was a nice connection to start the year (and my class’s second outreach to another school) as I try to continue my goal of connecting my students to the world.

Peace (in the talk),

The Loudest Pencil in the World

We’ve been working on a short story project for the past few days, and I have been so amazed at the quiet focus of my sixth graders on this project. You can hear a pin drop for 45 minutes at a time as they work on their stories. Then, yesterday, in one of my classes, all you could hear was this one kid’s pencil in the back of the room. It was incredibly noisy. It might have been his grip, or his intensity, or the table surface … who knows.

But as they wrote, I composed this poem:

The Loudest Pencil in the World

I just heard
the loudest pencil in the world;

Some kid in the back of the room
with a Kung Fu grip
and words tumbling out of him like an avalanche –
He’s racing to keep up,
pushing lead to stay ahead of his ideas,
else all might be lost …

And, boy, I know that feeling – all too well –
yet I write quiet,
so as to not cause a riot in my foolish head
as every sliver of sound has the potential
to get me lost
on some byway of my own way of thinking.

His pencil?
It shouts;
It hollers;
It sings;
It’s the loudest pencil in the world.
He’s scratching out a symphony in the back of the room
and the sounds have us all wondering –
I can see the heads of other students popping up
like prairie dogs now and then –
what is he writing,
and will his writing stay in tune

And I wrote it to be read and listened to, paying attention to internal rhymes. So, here is the podcast:

Peace (in the poem),

Sound Effects Poem: A Life in Draft

Draft Poem: A Life in Draft
Let me begin by saying, I had a vision. I had this vision of an assignment over at DS106 around recording and using audio sound effects in which I write a poem about writing and use the sound effects of writing in the poem. At first blush, that seems perfectly do-able, right? I set about recording a pencil writing on paper, an eraser erasing on paper and my fingers dancing over the keyboards. I put my Snowball microphone right next to the paper and the keyboard, and used Audacity to record the sounds. (Note: I used the compression feature in Audacity to broaden out the sound effects)

I wrote the poem (see draft above and final below) and began to record it, interspersing the sounds of the pencil and the eraser and the keyboard into the poem. It worked but I am not happy with it. I don’t know — it seems as if the pencil and eraser are the same damn sound, which opens up an entire conversation around the act of writing and rewriting — and I should have left more gaps in the poem audio. Maybe a distant soundtrack would have helped.

Take a listen:


Something is lacking.

However, I also think: the poem is about writing and life always in draft stage, so maybe this audio is in draft stage, too, and I need some distance to think about on it further. I will say that working to add an audio component to an otherwise straight-ahead poetry podcast is interesting, and requires deeper planning than at first blush. Collecting sounds, making sure they sound right (I recorded and re-recorded that darn pencil nine times before I got it where I could live with it), and then seeing the entire project as package of ideas … that’s a lot of thinking going on right there.

I included the image of my draft poem because I felt like it meshed nicely with the theme of the poem itself – of writing and wrestling with ideas. Here is the final:

A Life in Draft

Lines connected by swoop connected by ideas -
Words taking shape here in the rough.
I tough it out to the point
where vague echoes of old words
form the canvas on which
I write.

Pencil marks leaves traces -

The words removed by erasers -
The keyboard; next to nothing,
just pitch-perfect thoughts
read under the illusion of flow

We writers know better, though …

Eraser marks;
Back-key strokes;
Smudged frustrations;
Highlight and replace:

We write, wrestling with the tools.

Even this poem results from the war
of my head and heart
with the inside editor who finds fault,
no matter what I write,
or where,
or with what.

Peace (in the sound of the poem),


Exploring Audio: Making a Radio Bumper

Over at DS106, this week’s theme is all about audio. One of the assignments is to create a “radio bumper” for DS106 — a short piece that a DJ would put into a break of the show. Here’s what I came up with. I used Audacity, and the music is a piece I created a few years ago in a site called JamBand.

Peace (in the sharing),

Slice of Life: Sowing the Seeds of Confusion to Spark Comprehension

(This post is doing double duty here. It is part of the regular Slice of Life feature at Two Writing Teachers and part of the Close Reading being examined by Chris Lehman and Kate Roberts. Now that I think of it, this makes sense since Teachers College is a connection between Chris, Kate and Stacy at Two Writing Teachers. Right? Anyway …)

crazy reading passage

I’ve written about this activity before but I am starting to think about it in terms of the idea of Close Reading and the Common Core shifts even more closely lately. Here at the start of the year, as we talk about difficult texts and reading strategies around meaning, I share this piece of story with my sixth graders. Yesterday, I put this on the board and, with stern face, I told my students we were doing a “reading assessment.”

They gulped at that term, and then began to read it.

Then they laughed, and giggled, and when I asked volunteers to read it out aloud, they got a kick out of reading and listening. We read it out loud three times (I did it the third time). I then told them that there are strategies that can be helpful when you come across some text that, on first brush, seems vexing and confusing, or even downright odd. It’s not enough just to shake your head and move on. Good readers learn to stop, re-read and then think about the words and meaning in context of the larger system of writing.

Readers become detectives.

So, for example, as we use this small piece, they begin to realize they know when this event took place, who was involved, what was happening, and what was being communicated from one character to another. That’s a lot of information from a reading piece that on first glance makes no sense at all. (And by the way, this short piece was adapted from a text someone once gave me that is used with dyslexic students, to nurture reading strategies.)

This activity ties into teaching them Close Reading skills on a few levels: re-reading the text for clarity and understanding, narrowing the focus on elements of the text, grappling with writer’s intent and meaning even when that isn’t clear. My hope is that as we revisit these elements this year, we will have this anchor text (even if it is ridiculous, or maybe because it is ridiculous that they will remember it) to return to to remind ourselves some of the strategies.

Or as Flinkledobe would say, “This ditty strezzle is tunning in my grep!”

Peace (in the read),

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close reading button

Thinking Deeper about DS106

This weekend, a video conversation was posted in which the main facilitators/organizers of DS016 (Martha Burtis, Alan Levine, and Jim Groom) were being interviewed for an award DS016 is receiving around open learning. I was curious because I actually don’t know much about the history or intent of DS106, other than it is a wonderful way to engage in digital storytelling and creativity. I decided to put the video into Vialogues, so that I could comment and make notes as I listened to the three discuss the ethos underpinning the creation and nurturing of DS106, and its history.

I liked a lot of what I heard, from the open nature of the assignments to the desire to push the boundaries of digital storytelling as far as they will go, to understanding that the Web offers both limits and unlimited potential for creative minds, to the current state of educational organizations dipping their toes into online learning — only to replicate traditional learning. They imagine a digital humanities hub of work and exploration, with directions for learning yet unknown. I also liked how they connected this to agency and digital identity.

One point of the rich discussions that struck out at me, though, and I am not sure why I keep pondering it.

All three consistently refer to DS106 as a “course,” and that now makes sense to me — the site and idea was launched at a university, and has been and is used in college classes, and adapted for other university experiences. And – duh — there is the Headless Course that I am taking part in. Of course, it is a course. But I admit: I never knew that it was actually a college course and I never conceived of it that way, and listening to Jim, Martha and Alan use that word “course” to define the experience now has me rethinking DS016. It situates me differently inside the DS106.

And I am not sure why that bothers me slightly, and yet it does.

Perhaps it is because they are pretty adamant that DS106 is NOT a MOOC. And maybe it isn’t. But, well, maybe it is. My idea of a collaborative, open learning space is how I think about MOOCs in the best possible ways (acknowledging that the term is being taken over by corporate interests), and the DS106 experience feels a lot like that, for me. Maybe this is one of those times when words and language are really important when trying to explain something to the outside world, and hearing that word “course” conjures up a certain way of thinking about the University experience.

I suspect the three of them wish to change that kind of thinking with DS106, so that learning experiences are not a lecture, four-walls, textbook experiences. Maybe they need a new word there.

Peace (in the thinking),


Why I Played Twitter vs. Zombies (3)

tvsz3 timeline
This weekend, the third iteration of the Twitter-based hashtag game called Twitter vs. Zombies took place, and I joined in when I could. I was part of the first iteration last year, never knew about the second earlier this year, and only heard about the third iteration from a friend in DS106 … on Twitter, of course.

The game is a bit difficult to explain, as the rules shift as the game progresses but essentially it is a large, virtual game of tag. Some of the main ideas are:

  • Twitter becomes the “game board” where the action takes place;
  • Hashtags — such as #bite and #dodge — are the actions that players take in the game;
  • The goal of the game: Zombies try to turn all humans in zombies, and humans try to avoid getting turned into zombies;
  • Players begin as humans and then become zombies, and then maybe back to humans;
  • The game unfolds over three days of activity;
  • Collectives of humans seek to outrun zombies, who also work in teams to get the humans;
  • The moderators add new rules and twists to the game once or twice a day;
  • Sense of humor required.

But even that list of my own understanding of the Twitter vs. Zombies game doesn’t do it justice.  When we think about how to leverage the possibilities of the Web and its various spaces for collaborative and interactive experiences, this kind of game is what we are talking about. Think about an interactive experience that unfolds over a number of days, in which people who don’t know each other must collaborate, and be creative, to accomplish a goal … that’s really what Twitter vs. Zombies is all about, for me.

Plus, I had a blast playing it. And I created comics, Vine videos, word clouds, music mixes and more as a way to add my own media touch into the game atmosphere.

Twitter vs Zombies 3

Last time I played, I think I wrote about wondering how this sort of uncentered game experience might translate into the classroom. Not as Twitter vs. Zombies, perhaps, but some variation of it in which our students are engaged in a global gaming structure that requires deftness, creativity and collaboration. I’m still wondering about that.

I want to thank the moderators of the weekend’s game. Even though I got bitten and turned into a Zombie early in the game (I was teaching on Friday when the game began) and never got an antidote from anyone to turn back to human (and by Sunday, I was ready — I just couldn’t announce it … or could I have?), I had a blast, popping in and out of the action as our busy family life allowed. Engaging in Twitter vs. Zombies reminded me again of the many ways that technology and the connected world can transform how we think about learning and playing.

Peace (coming out of the darkness),


We Live in Stories: A Summary of Ideas

Ds106 word cloud
This past week, in DS106, the center of focus has been storytelling. In particular, we have been exploring what it means to tell a story in the digital age. I’ve thought a lot about this over the years, and have been bringing different kinds of storytelling to my sixth grade students as a way to expose them to the possibilities.

I love that idea of “possibilities” when it comes to digital storytelling. In many ways, I don’t feel as if we are quite there yet with how best to express a story across multiple and connected technological tools and spaces. But we are getting there, right? More and more barriers are falling down, although we should continue to be worried about businesses coming into the gaps, and inflicting their vision of how we should be composing on us. Some of the best moments in my classroom come when a student finds a workaround or discovers a hack that uses a piece of software or a tool in an unexpected way.

This week, I thought about my own view of digital storytelling, and then reviewed a book about transmedia and comics as storytelling devices, and then dove into the Five Card Story site for visually constructing a story. Finally, I took part in the Twitter vs. Zombies game on Twitter (my second time.)

A few sample tweets:

You might wonder: storytelling? You bet. The game is a story, but told in moving parts and on a fluctuating stage. The characters are us. The storyline might be expected (all humans eventually turn to zombies) but the participants are shaping the pace of the story.

Peace (in the thinking),


More Than Meets the Eye: Five Card Storytelling

Five Card Story: When I Remember You, I Remember Us

a Five Card Flickr story created by dogtrax

flickr photo by @DrGarcia

flickr photo by Serenae

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by bionicteaching

flickr photo by bionicteaching

I didn’t quite know where the story was going until that last image, which seems to be a memorial/remembrance of sorts. So, the story unfolded in reverse for me. The doll in the window seems to indicate a longing, with fierce metaphorical weather arriving. The leaf is most interesting to me here. It’s a beautiful shot, right? But it has a mournful quality to it, too.

Over at DS106, one of the activities to consider during this week of storytelling is using the Flickr tool “Five Card Story” that provides random images, and you choose one from a collection and built a visual story. It’s a fascinating dip into the world of visual storytelling, with just enough randomness to make it surprising and just enough agency to let you guide the story forward.

In mine, you can see what I was thinking in the comments of the piece. Essentially, I had an idea that then got completely changed with the final image, forcing me to re-imagine the entire story in reverse. For this kind of activity, you really need to be able to change your mind, and not dig in to a story too early. You never know what picture will come next that will alter your storytelling instincts.

You try it, too. Head to the Five Card Story site and make your own. What story will you tell?

Peace (in the visual),

In the Newspaper: Making Learning Connected

gazette clmooc piece
Our writing project has a sort of partnership with the local newspaper, where teachers have a regular column each month called Chalk Talk. I have been coordinating our end of it but I also write, too. This past week, the first column of the year came out, and in it, I talk about the Summer of Making and the Making Learning Connected MOOC experience.

I decided to make a podcast of the piece, so, here you go:

Peace (in the voice),